“I’ve always been interested in every aspect of music––interested in playing everything and writing it all and then, ‘Oh, how does the string section work? How can I arrange the horns?’” Meg Toohey says from her home in New York. The Massachusetts native has moved back to the East Coast after years in Los Angeles thanks to receiving the offer of a lifetime: playing all and composing several of the guitar parts for Sara Bareilles’ Broadway production of Waitress.
Toohey’s peers and devoted fans know her work in moody pop-rock well. After founding and fronting critically acclaimed The So and So’s in Boston, she moved on to co-found The Cold and Lovely in Los Angeles and then to play guitar and other instruments with The Weepies and more. She also played with Boston-based Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Lori McKenna for years, and penned her own gems that found their way to hit TV series such as Pretty Little Liars, Vampire Diaries, Parenthood, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Army Wives, Gossip Girl, and other shows on MTV, PBS, and more, as well as films including Sex in the City, Friends with Money, Morning Glory, and Last Shift, which bowed at the Cannes Film Festival. As a producer, Toohey has worked with a diverse slew of indie artists, including Michelle Featerstone, Vivek Shraya, Garrison Starr, and many others, as well as comedian Margaret Cho, whose album featuring a Toovey-produced track garnered a Grammy nod.
Some of Toohey’s first believers were her family. The daughter of public school teachers––her dad was a bandleader while her mom taught English––Toohey played in her first bands with her brother, who is five years older. She enrolled at the Berklee College of Music, where she spent days singing standards and nights in the studios as an ace session player. She graduated with a degree in vocal performance and songwriting––a fact that surprises many who know her primarily as one of her generation’s finest guitarists.
While Toohey has become an industry go-to for her unmistakable pop hooks and sly rock-and-roll, the challenge of Broadway––and eight shows a week––has brought Toohey full circle, and helped her become more of the creator she was always meant to be. She joined the cast of Waitress musicians late, but she still ended up orchestrating some of the final guitar parts. “Being able to write my own part for a Broadway show? That’s unheard of,” she says appreciatively. “It gave me hope that there might be other experiences like this.
She also produced a new recording of Jesus Christ Superstar featuring an all-female cast that includes several Tony winners. As she tackles more musicals and produces a growing range of other artists, Toohey is finally––happily––in a good place. “It’s funny,” she says. “I spent so many years holed up, not challenging myself. Then I got this crazy gig. I don’t read music well, but here I am, playing a Broadway show, where I’m getting charts handed to me every day. At night, on the train home, I’m on an app figuring out how to read rhythms again. It’s brought me back to being 12 years-old, trying to read enough to pass,” she says, then pauses and adds with a smile, “I’m doing alright.”